Recent Conviction

By Vicki Voskuil
Bismarck Tribune
November 26, 1994

The recent conviction of a former North Dakota priest for child sexual abuse has brought down the Irish coalition government of Prime Minister Albert Reynolds and his majority Fianna Fail party. The Rev. Brendan Smyth, known to Catholic parishioners in Langdon, Park River and Ellendale as Father John Smythe, is now serving a four-year prison sentence in Northern Ireland after admitting a series of sexual offenses against the children of an Irish family over a 30-year period. Ireland's political crisis erupted because of a seven-month delay in the processing of warrants for Smyth's extradition from the Irish republic to Northern Ireland, and accusations of incompetence and political payoff by high-ranking officials.

Howard Rose, a reporter with Dublin's Sunday Press, said the warrants were never actually served by Harry Whelehan, Ireland's attorney general. They became a political liability in October when Reynolds insisted on appointing Whelehan to president of the High Court, the second-highest judicial post in the republic. The appointment angered the Labor Party, which pulled out of the coalition to protest the appointment and the mishandling of Smyth's extradition. Nevertheless, Whelehan was sworn in, but served only two days after Reynolds reversed his decision and blamed the attorney general for failing to extradite the priest. Parliamentary debate over the judgeship revealed the extradition delay and threw doubt on Whelehan and Reynolds, who were accused of a cover-up. Reynolds blamed the system and having no previous precedent in law. However, he admitted to misleading Parliament when he claimed Smyth's extradition had been unique. He also admitted he wouldn't have appointed Whelehan if he'd known about the problems in the AG's office. The disclosures also raised new doubts in Ireland over the Roman Catholic Church's policy of transferring priests with sexual or psychiatric problems between parishes, even continents, rather than reporting them to police. An Irish reporter alerted church officials at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Langdon about the Smyth conviction. In April, half a dozen former altar servers at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Langdon alleged improper conduct by Smyth after the Fargo diocese notified the churches Smyth served. One man in his mid-20s claims he was sexually abused by Smyth and is undergoing counseling paid for by the diocese, said the Rev. Dale Kinzler of Langdon. The other alleged victims, who suffered less abuse, don't want to pursue the case, he said. So far, no North Dakotans have filed charges against Smyth, a native of Dublin. However, Rose said the Irish family, whose case sent him to prison, is seeking financial compensation. Described as a pedophile in the Irish press, Smyth was sent to North Dakota in 1979. He returned to Belfast in 1982, coming to ""holiday" in North Dakota several times afterward. His known history of child abuse goes back to at least 1964. Police in Northern Ireland began investigating Smyth in 1990, but didn't charge him with sexual misconduct until March 1991 when he was released on bond. News reports indicate Smyth's evasiveness caused the delay. Extradition proceedings were needed because he refused to make himself available to police. Reynolds resigned as party leader Nov. 17, ending his 22-month coalition after the Labor Party cast a ""no confidence" vote in his leadership. Together, the two parties, with 99 seats, controlled the 166-member Parliament with the largest majority in the 74-year history of the state. Reynolds now heads a caretaker government while the political parties negotiate a new coalition to rule until the next general election.


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